The activities of extracellular enzymes, the proximate agents of decomposition in soils, are known to depend strongly on temperature, but less is known about how they respond to changes in precipitation patterns, and the interaction of these two components of climate change. Both enzyme production and turnover can be affected by changes in temperature and soil moisture, thus it is difficult to predict how enzyme pool size may respond to altered climate. Soils from the Boston-Area Climate Experiment (BACE), which is located in an old field (on abandoned farmland), were used to examine how climate variables affect enzyme activities and microbial biomass carbon (MBC) in different seasons and in soils exposed to a combination of three levels of precipitation treatments (ambient, 150% of ambient during growing season, and 50% of ambient year-round) and four levels of warming treatments (unwarmed to ~4°C above ambient) over the course of a year. Warming, precipitation and season had very little effect on potential enzyme activity. Most models assume that enzyme dynamics follow microbial biomass, because enzyme production should be directly controlled by the size and activity of microbial biomass. We observed differences among seasons and treatments in mass-specific potential enzyme activity, suggesting that this assumption is invalid. In June 2009, mass-specific potential enzyme activity, using chloroform fumigation-extraction MBC, increased with temperature, peaking under medium warming and then declining under the highest warming. This finding suggests that either enzyme production increased with temperature or turnover rates decreased. Increased maintenance costs associated with warming may have resulted in increased mass-specific enzyme activities due to increased nutrient demand. Our research suggests that allocation of resources to enzyme production could be affected by climate-induced changes in microbial efficiency and maintenance costs.


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enzymes, carbon, nitrogen, precipitation, temperature, decomposition, microbial biomass

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